The Master Interpreter

Frank Sinatra once called him the best singer alive. After being asked about that quote for probably the millionth time, Tony Bennett quipped, "What does he know?" Well, in this case, the Chairman of the Board knew a lot. Dubbed Tony Bennett by Bob Hope, the former Anthony Benedetto is the classic popular singer with a solid jazz vocabulary, a rare find today. His resume is lofty: the first white singer with Count Basie, over a dozen top-40 hits, Grammys, appearances on the Simpsons and an MTV Unplugged special with his trio. Thanks to the marketing genius of his son, Bennett's appeal has crossed generations, so now Gen X digs him, too. With a voice touched just a little by age, the 72-year-old singer still swings with the best of them and is a master interpreter of the standards.

-- Paul J. MacArthur

Tony Bennett performs with the Houston Symphony on Tuesday, December 15, at 8 p.m. at Jones Hall. For more information, call 224-7575.

Suicidal Tendencies -- While often mentioned in the same breath as Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer during the heyday of thrash in the late '80s/early '90s, Suicidal never quite received the same critical or commercial attention. That's too bad, because vocalist/lyricist Mike Muir is actually one of the genre's most intelligent and articulate front men, despite his bluntly bludgeoning "singing." Formed as a skate punk band in Venice, California, in the early '80s, ST was responsible for a string of hard-hitting, up-front records, including Join the Army, Controlled by Hatred/Feel Like Shit ... Deja Vu and Lights ... Camera ... Revolution. (This is a band that just loved ellipses.) It was mosh-friendly material backed by lyrics of self-reliance and an often angry but straightforward look at lower-class teen angst and individuality. This approach struck a chord, but the band's gang banger/low rider image perhaps limited its appeal -- though true fans didn't give a shit. After its breakup in '96, Muir reformed the group with ST guitarist Mike Clark; two players from his underrated side project, the funk/thrash band Infectious Grooves; and a new bassist. And though they've returned to their DIY roots with the recent self-released EP Six the Hard Way, the "best of" package, Prime Cuts, is actually the best introduction to the sound and the fury. Bring your bandannas -- and your bad attitude. On Friday, December 11, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak Drive. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Jughead's Revenge opens. Tickets $15. Call (888)597-STAR or 862-7580. (Bob Ruggiero)

Collin Raye Christmas Show -- There's something of a split personality crisis going on in Collin Raye. Despite releasing his debut record only in this decade, he has still managed to collect five platinum albums, release a greatest hits CD and a Christmas record, and rack up almost a dozen No. 1 country hits. On the one hand, he's the romantic balladeer whose sentimental crooning on "In This Life" and "Love, Me" has won him dewy-eyed fans and plenty of "couples dance" slots at clubs. He's also the one-man social worker who has unglamorously addressed alcoholism ("Little Rock"), racism ("Not That Different") and domestic violence ("I Think About You") in his material. And finally, he's the devout Christian for whom family and holidays mean something deeper than gifts and blinking colored lights. Houston audiences will get all of these Rayes -- complete with a symphony orchestra for good measure -- in a program that will be a mixture of his country hits, traditional Christmas songs and new material from his current CD, The Walls Came Down. On it, he harrowingly tackles child abuse on "The 11th Commandment," but there's also plenty of lovin' and lighter material like the hits "I Can Still Feel You" (which was co-written by an ex-girlfriend and is -- surprise! -- about their relationship), "Someone You Used to Know" and "Anyone Else." And while Raye's songs won't ever be accused of stretching vocal or musical boundaries, and have just as much in common with adult and Christian contemporary sounds as country, his warm, full tenor and earnestness on disc have made him a rising star with some staying power. Now if they could only make it snow inside the Arena Theatre, it would be a real holiday happening. Collin Raye performs on Saturday, December 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway. Tickets are $25 and $30. Call 988-1020. (Bob Ruggiero)


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